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Suncor Not Participating in Top 100 Employer Awards After Criticism Over Worker Deaths, Globe and Mail Publisher Says

“There are no shortcuts for health and safety. You've just got to do the heavy work.”

Suncor will no longer participate in Canada’s Top 100 Employers’ awards after criticism from experts on Suncor’s history of worker deaths, according to Globe and Mail publisher Phillip Crawley.

“My understanding is that they (Suncor) are not participating, they’re no longer participating,” Crawley told PressProgress.

Canada’s Top 100 Employers awards is sponsored content published annually in The Globe and Mail produced by a third party group called Mediacorp. The Top 100 awards have been criticized by occupational health and safety experts across Canada over the last two years for repeatedly awarding companies linked to worker deaths, Cargill and Suncor, spots in the Top 100.

The criticism from experts prompted The Globe and Mail to first apologize and then announce a review of its partnership with Mediacorp and Mediacorp’s awards criteria for employers related to health and safety.

“We’ve taken stock of what happened with some of the selections that were made,” Crawley said. “We’ve made it clear that, while (Mediacorp) may feel it’s not part of their criteria, you can’t exclude some of the issues that came to light involving a couple of the companies that were chosen.”

“Even if you are not awarding prizes based on health and safety, because other people do that, it’s still an issue that needs to be borne in mind when you’re doing your overall judging.”

Crawley said that going forward, Mediacorp will consider OH&S and worker deaths in its top 100 employer criteria.

“It’s important that we recognize our company achievements in the right way. When those lists come out, there’s a lot of people very pleased to see their company’s name and we want to make sure that that’s clearly understood.”

Crawley did not specify whether Suncor had withdrawn from the awards or if Suncor was banned from participating by Mediacorp. Neither Mediacorp nor Suncor responded to multiple requests for comment from PressProgress.

“I don’t know whether they’ve chosen to withdraw or what, but they are not participating,” Crawley clarified.

 

Globe and Mail Logo Removed from Canada’s Top 100 Employer Awards for Transparency

Crawley says the Globe and Mail will also remove its logo from Canada’s Top 100 Employers awards in Mediacorp’s print magazine inserts and websites to increase reader transparency about what is news and what is sponsored content.

“From a reader’s point of view, if they see this insert in The Globe and Mail, they need to understand that this is handled in a different way,” said Crawley. “We distribute the magazine, but we don’t have any involvement in the judging or selection of the companies included.”

Crawley previously stated that the Top 100 Employers awards had no connection to the Globe and Mail’s editorial department. However, Crawley clarified to PressProgress that actually “it had been a combination of editorial and advertorial custom content.”

Now, clearer lines have been drawn separating The Globe and Mail from Mediacorp’s Canada’s Top 100 awards.

“We’ve got a new agreement that was being formalized which will make sure that the content is handled by our custom content studio, which is part of the revenue department – it’s not part of the editorial department. So there is no input from editorial.”

“Our coverage in the Report on Business or in the news section of any company is entirely independent,” Crawley added. “We have very strong principles around editorial independence, and the newsroom would never feel that they were under any pressure.”

“When the CEO resigned after another workplace death, that was clearly a significant story for the Globe and Mail.”

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No Shortcuts for Health and Safety

Sean Tucker, an occupational health and safety researcher at the University of Regina coordinated the effort to get companies with worker deaths removed from the top 100 list.

“There are no shortcuts for health and safety. You’ve just got to do the heavy work, but I think it’s a cautionary tale for companies that are looking for shortcuts to rehabilitate their reputations,” Tucker told PressProgress.

“In the case of Cargill and Suncor, it backfires. It backfired on them and they were called out for that.”

Suncor needs to improve its health and safety record for at least three to five years before considering applying for another top employer award, Tucker adds.

Tucker appreciated Crawley’s willingness to listen and implement changes: “I do think we’ve seen a significant change here.”

“I really appreciated his candor and the time he took to talk about this and to use his influence with Mediacorp to try and bring about some changes there so that health and safety would be prominent in the selection process. Time will tell if that effort was successful, but I do believe this was a priority for him.”

However, Tucker notes that Mediacorp’s CEO Anthony Meehan never engaged directly with him over the last two years.

“I’m surprised that this was this hard to do,” Tucker said.

“I’ve never understood why Mediacorp hasn’t been responsive to any of the concerns that have been raised. I don’t know why they continue to not answer questions about their process. I don’t think it’s a recipe for success or the future of this list.”

Bob Barnetson, labour professor at Athabasca University, says both Mediacorp and the Globe and Mail’s credibility have been undermined by the top 100 controversy.

“The Globe taking its logo off likely reflects that being associated with pay-to-play employer propaganda is bad for the Globe’s credibility as a news source,” Barnetson told PressProgress.

“Adding OHS criteria recognizes that a company that routinely kills workers can’t be credibly described as a top employer,” Barnetson noted.

“The good press Suncor purchased by participating in the awards was likely negated by critics dredging up its record of killing workers.”

Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, says he is “not convinced” Suncor’s corporate behavior will be influenced by no longer participating in the Top 100.

“Is Suncor dropping out so that they can improve their record? Or are they dropping out just to avoid scrutiny?” McGowan told PressProgress.

In June, Suncor’s new CEO Rich Kruger announced his mandate will prioritize cutting costs, resulting in 1,500 layoffs by the end of the year.

“I haven’t seen a whole lot to suggest that they’re giving health and safety the same kind of priority as they are cost cutting,” McGowan said. “Cost cutting is not a way to improve workplace health and safety.”

Mediacorp runs multiple provincial and special interest Top 100 Employers lists across the country, partnered with local newspapers like The Vancouver Sun, the Calgary Herald, and the Ottawa Citizen.

“It seems to be just an exercise in laundering the reputations of corporations,” McGowan told PressProgress. “I wouldn’t cry a lot of tears if this leads to the slow death of these phony top 100 lists.”

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Emily Leedham
Reporter
Emily Leedham is PressProgress’ Prairies Reporter. Her reporting has a special focus on workers and communities, big money and corporate influence, and systemic racism.

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